Monday, May 18, 2009

Do It Right

by Raelene Gorlinsky

It’s gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
It’s gonna take patience and time
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it,
To do it right child

And this time I know it’s for real
The feelings that I feel
I know if I put my mind to it
I know that I really can do it.
- “Got My Mind Set On You”, George Harrison
- written by Rudy Clark; lyrics © Carlin America Inc.

This success story was related at a writing organization to which I belong. (The story has been altered slightly to protect the author’s privacy and make it more generally applicable.) Let’s call our successful aspiring author Penny Professional.

As an aspiring-to-be-published author, Penny did the two things absolutely necessary:
1. She wrote a great book.
2. She grasped that becoming a published author is a “job” and she approached “job hunting” in a business-like manner.

You can’t be successful unless you put your full effort into BOTH aspects. I’m continually flummoxed by the attitude of some writers that being creative should somehow exempt them from the need to be professional and deal with the business aspects of publishing. It doesn’t matter what great cakes you bake, no one will ever eat them if you don’t open a bakery. Or are you waiting for a knight in shining armor to come rescue you and your manuscript from your little cottage and carry you away to fame and fortune in Publishing Land? Honey, you gotta get out in front of your cottage and flag down that knight as he gallops by.

So I was impressed by the professional and dedicated way Penny approached her job goal. Here’s what she did, what every aspiring author needs to do if they are serious about becoming published.

1. Penny went about becoming a professional in this career. She joined writer organizations, read lots of top-selling books in her genre of choice, networked with others in the publishing industry, among other things.

2. Penny researched where and to whom to submit. Most of that research was online, but she also talked to other authors. She studied publishers and their recent releases and best sellers, reviewed submission guidelines, searched for information on agents, editors and publishers. She created a spreadsheet listing those she pinpointed as appropriate for her and her manuscript—it included things like what genres the person dealt with, what books they had handled that were similar to her book, things she’d learned about them online. There were more than fifty names in her list.

3. She wrote a professional and informative query letter, the style and tone of which reflected that of her book. (And she’d thoroughly researched how to write a query letter—use a search engine to find the gazillion available online examples and advice.)

4, She sent query letters to her choices and tracked responses. She promptly followed up on all replies.

5. Penny’s query letters resulted in several requests for partials, followed by requests for fulls! She sent those in the format and length requested by each person, even when it meant reformatting the document or sending different numbers of chapters to each requestor. (And she did not get discouraged or waste time being angry about the many people who failed to respond to her at all.)

6. The person at the top of Penny’s list not only requested the full, he then sent her a letter saying he could not accept the story as it was, but was very interested and wanted to see it again if she made some suggested revisions. Penny mentioned that he was “just coincidentally” at the top of her list. I don’t consider that a coincidence at all! She did her research and pinpointed him as someone who would be appropriate for her story and whom she’d like to work with—that’s how she got a positive response from him.

7. Penny discussed the requested revisions with him so she understood the why and what before starting work. She explained up front her ideas for the changes, so they were both “on the same page”. She then quickly got to work and sent in the revised manuscript. She also understood that there was no guarantee that making the changes would get the book accepted.

8. When Penny got “the call”, she made it clear she was delighted but stated that she would like two weeks to consider the offer. (She said this was the hardest step of all, when what she really wanted to do was scream, “YES! Take me, I’m yours!”) She waited for the initial euphoria to pass before calmly reviewing the terms of the offer and deciding if it was acceptable to her—which it was.

9. She immediately contacted the other people who had requested partials or fulls and let them know she had received an offer, and that if they might be interested, she would need to hear back from them within two weeks. Smart move—this gave her the opportunity to see if a better offer might be forthcoming.

10. Two weeks later, she accepted the initial offer. She is working now on quickly finishing the full revised book.

I hope Penny becomes a very successful author. She deserves it, not just for the excellent story but for her professionalism and good work.

Oh, and by the way—all of the above took many elapsed months and massive amounts of work and time from Penny. And yes, she has a full-time day job in an unrelated field, so had to give first priority to that. But she is committed enough to adding “published author” to her career that she did what it took to make it happen.


Anonymous said...

"7. Penny discussed the requested revisions with him so she understood the why and what before starting work. She explained up front her ideas for the changes, so they were both “on the same page”. She then quickly got to work and sent in the revised manuscript. She also understood that there was no guarantee that making the changes would get the book accepted."

This is the only one I didn't know about. In fact, it contradicts the advice I was given by all the other professionals. I was told there is no point in asking or explaining. You do the revisions, if you want, and if they're incompatible with the editor's vision, well, that's too bad. If you were already published and a proven seller, you might have enough credibility to discuss such things, but you're nobody.

Let's say the editor says to make a change in one part of the story which completely contradicts everything I've learned about that subject in my long education and experience with it. Doesn't matter because it doesn't match what she believes about the readership. Too bad.

Elle Parker said...

That is a wonderfully concise and clever way to give a whole lot of great advice! And it gives a comprehensive timeline to the process. I'm going to bookmark this and pass it along to some aspiring authors I know.

Elle Parker

ECPI Editors said...

Hi, Anonymous,

Sounds like you or an author friend had an unfortunate experience. I don't personally know any editor or agent who takes such a harsh attitude, although they may exist. It could depend on how the author reacted to the revision request--no editor's going to respond cooperatively to an author who feels their work is above criticism and is resistant to any changes.

If you don't discuss it, how could the author even be sure they know what IS compatible with "the editor's vision"?

I am doing a follow-up post on Wednesday on just this topic - responding to revision requests.


Anonymous said...

The argumentative types make all the noise while the other aspiring authors simply get on with the next story. Seeing little point in discussing revisions, they hope the next story will better fit established criteria. They figure it's better to move on than be branded argumentative and ruin future chances.

Anonymous said...

what about the oppostitte extreme:

Do editors see red when an author just immediately agrees with every change, doing them quickly but without any back-and-forth to discuss other possibilities? As in, "this person is just agreeing with everything to make the process go faster--she just wants the second half of her advance without regard to the finished product, to the point that she accepts every change, no matter how large or small without question!"

Is that ever a problem?

ECPI Editors said...

Well, I don't think an editor would get angry with an author who agreed with them! I have a saying posted over my desk: "Just agree with me. It will go so much easier for you later."

However, be aware that the editor's revision comments are not likely to be that specific or detailed. Yes, line/copy edit changes should be clear and in most cases the author is encouraged to agree and implement. That covers things like consistency issues, clarity, sentence structure, grammar/punctuation/spelling. But actual CONTENT editing is more likely to be editorial comments such as "Add more oomph to this scene", "Her motivation is unclear", "This is not consistent with previous actions", "This subplot seems to go nowhere." That requires a lot more thought and work by the author, and some back-and-forth with the editor.


JackiAnne said...

Wonderful advice, thank you so much for posting it. I'll print it out and keep it for "someday" in the future when I'm ready to start submitting.